How to add “read times” to your website articles

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Setting expectations can be extremely user-friendly. Read times for all this content being published by everyone online fits into that category. Even when they are not perfect.

What are read times online and where do we see them?

Read times seem to be popping up all over the place. I have them on this blog on top of every article. See above and here’s an example from another post:

Read times examples

According to my website’s display that article will take 5 minutes to read.

LinkedIn also recently rolled out their own version.

Read times on LinkedIn

LinkedIn lets users know that it will take them roughly 7 minutes to read my article. That’s good to know before deciding to click over. That same article is listed on my blog to take 10 minutes.

Longer read times on the blog

The times differ because both systems use different methodologies and reading speeds for the content.

Kindle also estimates how long it will take you to read my Content Performance Culture book (over 5 hours) and other books:

Read times on Kindle

How are displayed read times calculated on websites?

Read times are calculated by:

Stated average reading speed x number of words in article = Reading time

From what’s I’ve seen, the average reading time of people can be somewhere between 200-300 words per minute. So a 300-word article, which seems short for most thought leadership or explanatory content, takes 1 minute. The average word count of my articles on here in 2020 is 1,200 words with over 106,000 words filed in five months.

For the reading times display on this blog, I used a reading speed of 200 words per minute. So a 1,200-word article will be displayed to take 6 minutes to read.

What’s good about displaying read times?

It sets your expectation of how deep and long content is. I once visited a blog post and it said it would take 30-some minutes to read. That’s quite a time commitment. If I don’t have that kind of time, I may just not even start.

On the flip side, when LinkedIn tells me that the article linked to from my news feed is a 1-minute read, I might come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth clicking over for. How deep can that be?

Personally, when I see articles between 5-12 minutes I tend to assume they are worth considering reading.

How to display read times on your website (WordPress specifically)

Certainly your developer can create a functionality using the formula shared above in most – if not all Content Management Systems. I use WordPress on this site and downloaded the Wordcount plugin, which at the basic level is free, to get the display.

Wordcount WordPress plugin

The plugin gives me statistics on number of words filed total on the blog, by author, month and average length. It also offers adding the reading time.

Reading time in Wordcount plugin

Click into the reading time section where it allows some customization, including:

  • stating how many words per minute can be read
  • whether or not to insert the display before content. Unchecked – you aren’t using this function of the plugin
  • Add your copy for what it should say before the number. I added: “Estimated read time:”
  • Then add what it should say after the number of calculated minutes. I simply set this to “minutes.”
  • Save changes

Done. Your post now have this new display at the top. One word of caution, on my site, it bled over onto the blog page where articles are highlighted. It looked messy:

That’s avoided by filling out the excerpt field for the post, which then is shown without the minutes and looks like this:

Disadvantages of displaying read times?

Janaki Nori

But there are limitations as Product Marketer Janaki Nori reminds us.

“Read times for whom? Doesn’t everyone have a different pace at which they read? I never found it useful,” she said.

Another disadvantage is that read times calculated by the above formula don’t take into account the whole experience of an article.

Keep in mind that many people, including myself, skim content online. They read the sub heads and consider diving into the different sections that are most of interest. So they may read one section that is highly relevant and useful twice, while not reading other content at all.

Well-designed and thought-out content also has non-text elements.

Marketing Director Amanda Milligan shared on the Business Storytelling Podcast that publishers love graphical elements to tell stories as well as long-form content. I also love embedding podcasts – like just ahead of this paragraph. When readers pause and listen to the podcast, it will also take them longer to consume the content.

After all, read times are not total consumption times for a piece of content.

While there are downsides as a consumer and content marketer I love this feature. It gives me a quick overview of what I should expect time wise and depth wise. Of course, keep in mind that just because somebody can write long doesn’t mean it’s in-depth.




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